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Television knows no bounds. And it’s a damn shame too…

by Anthony Bontrager on August 24, 2010

Applications…  Seems like everyone is talking about them, using them, developing them, slamming them or hailing them as the next big thing (see Wired’s article – The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet).  There are apps that connect you to your favorite social network, bring you fantastic deals on products and services, tell your friends where you are, allow you to watch video or just play a simple game of solitaire.

Love them or hate them, use them or don’t, applications have taken the mobile industry by storm and demonstrate that mobile communication is more than just telephony and email.  Apps are a critical part of a vast eco-system that bring us together and connect us with information, products and services in ways that are engaging, informative and entertaining.

All of this is well and good for consumers and businesses alike. I mean, we’ve been using apps since the advent of the PC and it’s only natural that given the proliferation of smart phones and mobile Internet devices that applications would find their way into the mobile diaspora.  What I find troubling is that one screen remains largely ignored, and it just happens to occupy the biggest space in our lives even to this day.

Yes, I’m talking about – GASP! – The television.

Now I’m quite certain many will argue that television apps already exist.  Yahoo’s ConnectedTV platform is an example of taking the app concept and moving it into the living room.  The problem with this and other such efforts is that they are taking the mobile model and applying it to the television.  Haven’t we learned that each screen occupies its own unique space in the lives of consumers and to copy one business model to the other is fraught with peril?

Today’s TV app environment is what is commonly referred to as the Unbound Application.  This refers to applications that exist in and of themselves and have little or no context to what is being watched on TV.  But what about actually linking the app to what is being displayed on TV (i.e. a “Bound Application”).  For example, you could be watching Food Network’s Diners, Drive-in’s and Dives that is covering a pizza shop in San Diego and have the Google Maps app appear, showing the address and phone number of the pizza shop as well as the recipe for the pizza being made on that show – as it airs!  Or, you could be watching Showtime’s Dexter and have a trivia app pop up giving you the back story or trivia on the current episode.  Or, perhaps you’re watching a football game and a twitter list of trending topics on that game could appear showing you what other fans think of the game and allowing you to interact as well.

Theses so-called “Bound Apps” have the power to take advantage of what you are watching and provide contextually relevant information framed by the content being displayed on screen.  It is the next evolution of the application environment.  Just as we saw traditional PC web viewing giving way to the power of Unbound Apps on the mobile deck, we now need to work to bring Bound Apps to the living room.

We have a lot of work to make such an environment a reality however.  The STB monopoly needs to be broken up, allowing for a more open framework for 3rd parties to develop upon (as I’ve blogged about previously), and the cable, DTH and Telco-IPTV industries need to agree on a set of standards for the delivery of IP based services to the set-top-box.

The television still represents the Captain Kirk chair of video viewing, regardless of what the cable-cutters say.  We as an industry are well overdue to bring this amazing medium into the 21st century.  Who’s with me???

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